There is now no chance that Congress can block the deal that the Obama administration and its international allies have negotiated to put the brakes on the nuclear ambitions of Iran, making it politically safe for many politicians and public figures still on the fence about it to simply come out in opposition.
However, rather than a deluge of detractors, the Obama administration has seen significant support, including two high-profile figures, one from each political party, who endorsed the deal over the weekend.
Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida is one of the most closely watched votes on the Iran question, not only because she represents a relatively large concentration of Jewish voters in her home state but because she chairs the Democratic National Committee.
For the Obama administration, losing the vote of a Democrat with a heavily Jewish constituency over a deal that Israel vocally condemns might be bearable. But the political optics of a Democratic president losing the DNC chair’s support for his top foreign policy priority would have been very bad.
In an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, Wasserman Schultz said that after a process she described as “gut-wrenching” and “thought-provoking,” she had decided to support the deal.
“My number one goal in making this decision was to reach a conclusion based on what I thought would be most likely to prevent Iran from achieving their nuclear weapons goals,” she said. “In weighing everything, all the information that I had in front of me, I concluded that the best thing to do is to vote in support of the Iran deal and to make sure that we can put Iran years away from being a threshold nuclear state and ensure that we can more closely concentrate on their terrorist activity.”
Tapper noted that Wasserman-Schultz was inevitably going to be attacked for her support of the deal by its opponents, some of whom would claim that she had “sold out” the Israeli people.
The DNC chair choked up during her response, invoking her identity as both a Jew and the mother of Jewish children.
“There is nothing more important to me as a Jew than to ensure Israel’s existence is there throughout our generations, and I am confident that the process I have gone through to reach this decision is one that will ensure that Israel will be there forever.”
Later Sunday morning, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” former secretary of state Colin Powell, who served in that position under Republican President George W. Bush, also came out in favor of the deal, explaining that he supported it both on national security grounds and on the grounds of diplomatic realism.
“I think it is a good deal,” Powell told host Chuck Todd. “I’ve studied very carefully the outline of the deal and what’s in that deal. And I’ve also carefully looked at the opposition to the deal and my judgment after balancing those two sets of information is that it’s a pretty good deal.”
He continued, “I know there are objections but here’s why I think it’s a good deal. One of the great concerns that the opposition had is that we are leaving open a lane for the Iranians to go back to creating a nuclear weapon in 10 to 15 years while forgetting the reality that they have been on a superhighway for the last 10 years to create a nuclear weapon or a nuclear weapons program with no speed limit.
“In the last 10 years they’ve gone from 136 centrifuges up to something like 19,000 centrifuges,” he said. “This agreement would bring them down to 5,000 centrifuges, all of these will be under [International Atomic Energy Agency] supervision. I think this is a good outcome.”
Powell also said that opponents of the deal, who assert that Iran can be brought back to the bargaining table and forced to submit to a “better deal” are ignoring diplomatic realities.
“We also have to keep in mind that we are in this with a number of other countries,” Powell said. “All of the ones that have worked with us, China, Russia, Germany France, Britain, they have already agreed to it. The British foreign secretary was in Iran last week with a trade delegation. Even if we were to kill this deal, which is not going to happen, it’s going to take effect anyway because all of these other countries that were in it with us are going to move forward.”
Opposition at this point, he said, would leave the U.S. “standing on the sidelines.”
It wasn’t all good news for the Obama administration over the past few days. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the Republic who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, came out against the deal.
In an op-ed, Corker wrote, “I came to these negotiations with an open mind, but unfortunately, instead of achieving our nation’s original goal, this agreement paves the path for the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism to industrialize their nuclear program with a U.S. stamp of approval, which is why I oppose implementation of this deal.”
Ironically, it was a deal arranged with Corker’s support that appears to have made implementation of the deal possible. The Nuclear Agreement Review Act, passed this summer, allowed the deal to go forward unless Congress was able to override a presidential veto of an expected resolution of disapproval passed by Congress.
Corker’s stance notwithstanding, there are enough Democratic supporters of the deal in the Senate alone to prevent an override vote from being successful.